Some thoughts on the Astros' closer situation

With yesterday's news that Jose Valerde would be walking away from the Houston Astros—most likely—and the news that LaTroy Hawkins is in Indy this afternoon meeting with the front office, the faint buzz surrounding the Astros is what are they going to do about closing out ballgames in 2010.  Now, this would normally be the time I'd bust out a bevy of various projections about each option we have, but there are only two major projection systems that have been released: CHONE and Bill James.  That didn't stop me from busting them out, however.

When we get down to brass tacks, what we look for in a closer is someone who will a) create outs and b) minimize the other team's run expectancy.  I've tried to capture that in the four options I can see the Astros front office considering as closer-capable.  I averaged the two projection systems' projections in an effort to curb overly negative or overly positive trends amidst the skill sets. I know that this isn't the most efficacious methodology, but these are meant to serve more as a launching pad for more nuanced discussion.

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Interestingly enough, LaTroy Hawkins, Mike Gonzalez, and Alberto Arias are equally valued by CHONE's projection system (click here and here).  The caveat here is that if you rank them by projected value per projected IP, then list goes Arias (44pIP), Gonzalez (51 pIP), and Hawkins (57pIP).  Looking at it all, Alberto Arias becomes my favorite. Strong enough strikeout numbers, and control that will likely improve with age, could result in an extreme-ground ball pitcher who still gets the Ks; the walks are troubling, though, but I think the ground balls minimize them.

Clack threw out an idea earlier today that the Astros sign Gonzalez and platoon he and Arias in the 8th and 9th innings based on match-ups.  Upon hearing the news I instantly began to wonder whether Ed Wade was savvy enough to pull of this move.  It involves spinning the deal in such away that it doesn't scare off Gonzalez, but not bringing him in under so false a pretense that he shuts down mentally once he realizes his plight.  

After trying to think of the appropriate spin, I realized it was just time to bust out some numbers and think of it that way.  Based on their splits between LHB and RHB, we'd certainly see some upside from Mike Gonzalez, who is dramatically more effective against lefties (as measured by K:BB).  Arais, too, would see a bump in his performance, but the swing isn't as dramatic as Gonzalez's.

I'm not as sure of what Gonzalez is seeking on the open market.  But as a former Houstonian, you have imagine he'd take a pay cut, and at age 31, two years wouldn't be a bad call at all.  That would be two years of maximizing the production of two key assets, and a relatively cheap price (when you average the two salaries).  

In truth, I think that the only chance the Astros have over the next few years is going to be through outside of the box thinking and wonky solutions like this one.  The good news is that there appears to be evidence that analysis plays some role in the decision making process for us.  Which is good news, considering I thought we might have been one of the two teams who have yet employee anyone who specializes in baseball analysis.  Then again, looking at this trade, it appears the Dbacks are probably one of those two.

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